University challenge to A-levels

6th October 2000 at 01:00
MANY English universities would prefer sixth-formers to take a baccalaureate-style qualifications rather than the Government's new A-levels, a survey of 145 institutions has found.

Welsh curriculum advisers have consulted institutions in England, Scotland and Northern Ireland over plans to replace A-levels with an over-arching baccalaureate for a report called Beyond the Border. They want to gauge support for the plan because half of Welsh sixth-formers go on to higher education outside Wales.

Nearly two-thirds of the 72 universities which responded to the survey by the Institute of Welsh Affairs said that a Welsh bac would be better than the new modular A-levels which were introduced this month.

A further 18 per cent said they considered the Welsh bac to be just as good as the new A-levels. Most (83 per cent) said it would be better than the old A-levels in giving sixth-formers a balanced and coherent study programme.

The survey comes as more leading independent schools are proposing to switch from A-levels to the broader International Baccalaureate, under which students take six subjects, three at higher and three at standard level.

A survey of 400 schools belonging to the Headmasters' and Headmistresses' Conference and Girls' Schools Assocition found one in eight (50) was interested in running the International Baccalaureate as an alternative to A-levels, according to Vivian Anthony, retiring secretary of the organisation. Some, such as Sevenoaks school in Kent, already offer the IB as an alternative to A-level.

The Welsh Assembly has boosted the idea of a Welsh bac. The Institute of Welsh Affairs is preparing a pound;1.1 million pilot for 16 to 19-year-olds over three years in six schools.

The Welsh bac aims to go further than the International Baccalaureate by giving academic and vocational courses equal weight under an over-arching qualification which covers key skills, theory of knowledge, and citizenship.

It would require sixth-formers to study six subjects including a foreign language.

Respondents included Professor Rees Davies, professor of Medieval history at Oxford University and fellow of All Souls College, who said: "The Welsh bac is a most exciting development in post-16 education. It provides a more balanced and rounded approach to the curriculum than any of its current of prospective competitors."

"Beyond the Border" (pound;10 plus pound;1.50 pamp;p) is available from the Institute of Welsh Affairs, Cardiff 029 2057 5511or at

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